Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Borough That Hatches Businesses: City Bringing "Incubator" to Central Brooklyn

Brooklyn has been a bastion for all manner of start-up businesses for centuries, and over the past couple decades it's become a veritable hotbed for new ideas, not least because of the creative cache that's come to be associated with the borough (witness the competition between two small-batch gin distillers for the Brooklyn name, despite the fact that moonshine-making has only been legal for a year in New York State). Residents of Franklin are no strangers to this phenomenon, as evidenced by the double-digit entrepreneurial explosion on the Avenue over the past few years. Now, the City's Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) is getting involved, announcing last week that they are issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) to bring a small-business incubator to Central Brooklyn.

The NYCEDC's incubators, of which Central Brooklyn's will be the ninth, are part of the Corporation's Affordable Workspaces programming, which seeks to make space for great ideas in the hyper-competitive, uber-expensive New York City environment. The incubators are often geared around a central theme - the first, at 160 Varick, offered shiny corporate-style offices to start-ups, while others have included a fashion workshop in the Garment District and artist's studios in the Brooklyn Army Terminal. For their latest effort, the EDC is thinking with their stomachs, encouraging proposals for a "food-use" incubator. This could include food storage, manufacturing, and commercial kitchens, and might end up looking and feeling somewhat similar to the Hot Bread Kitchen Incubator at La Marqueta in East Harlem. The EDC is seeking a partner to develop, operate, and maintain the incubator, and has allocated over one million dollars for capital costs related to the project.

While the proposal expressly names Bed-Stuy, Crown Heights, Brownsville, and East New York as its preferred locations, it is also offering prospective developers space in the basement of the city-owned Moore Street Market in East Williamsburg. With all due respect (and as a Crown Heights homer), this incubator should aim for a more central location, one with excellent transit and a thriving small-business culture as well as ample former-factory space just waiting to be converted . . . Four Corners, anyone? In all seriousness, with the A-C and 2-3-4-5 nearby, an incubator in our area would be easily accessible to all four of the neighborhoods named in the RFP, as well as proximate to a number of booming business districts. What more could you ask for?

Readers - would you like an incubator in Crown Heights? Where would you like to see it?


  1. I would love to see this incubator come to Crown Heights. Franklin Ave specifically, for my own selfish reasons, as I would only have to walk up the block, lol. Hopefully, the incubator would encourage other types of businessas as well.

  2. Do we have a local Community Development agency that is up to the task successfully completing the RFP?

    ....such funds are very competitive.

    I write proposals for non-profits, but this is outside my expertise.

  3. @Mike - That's exactly the question that I have. We (Nostrand Park) sent out an e-blast about the incubator when it was announced to a bunch of community groups in Crown Heights, but did not get much response.

    Unfortunately, as you point out the funds are very competitive and there are some powerhouse economic development corporations within Central Brooklyn that would be formidable.

    For instance, Bed-Stuy has Restoration Corporation and Pratt Area Community Council. East New York has the East NY Local Development Corporation. And while the work of Crown Heights community organizations has been laudable, they do not have nearly the same reputation or capacity as some of these other organizations.

    The one place that might theoretically be a good fit is the Local Development Corporation of Crown Heights (LDCCH). However, they primarily focus on senior housing development. Plus, I have tried to reach out to them in the past, but have been very disappointed with the response.

    It is a shame too, because Crown Heights really would be a great spot for an incubator program - there are so many industrial buildings on Dean, Pacific, and Atlantic between Franklin and Classon that have the capacity to house an incubator. There is also the Black Lady Theater on Nostrand Avenue. And goodness knows that there are some people who need jobs and training around these parts!

    That said, there is still hope. We've been brainstorming on the issue...